Armagh senior hurlers finished off the year with disappointment in the Ulster final after a 6-21 to 4-14 defeat to Antrim. While the result shows a 13 point margin, in reality this was a game that Armagh could have won had they have taken all of their chances and cut out some mistakes.
Antrim hit the ground running on Sunday with a score from Daniel McKernan from the throw in and Eddie McCluskey added a second, before an early Declan Coulter goal sparked the Orchard side to life. A further brace from Antrim put them ahead 0-6 to 1-0, before Fiachra Bradley hit Armagh’s first point after a great block from Connor Devlin out the field. While Antrim did convert another couple of scores, including a super effort from a sideline cut, Armagh took over with three scores from Ryan Gaffney and one from Cahal Carvill, before Eoin McGuinness edged the Orchard men in front with 25 minutes played. Antrim, however, turned on the style and replied with three goals in a devastating seven minute period, the first from John Dillon, the second from Conor Carson after a goal line scramble and the third from Ciaran Clarke. Antrim added on another few scores and when Ryan Gaffney was forced to leave the field for medical attention, Armagh were up against it. However, as the half went into added time, James King soloed up the field and finished to the top corner of the net with a beautiful strike to leave the score at the break Ard Mhacha 2-8 Aontroim 3-14.
Armagh made a great start to the second half Ryan Gaffney firing over two scores before an Eoin McGuinness goal cut the deficit to four. Ciaran Clarke struck a point from a free and after a short puck out was intercepted, Clarke capitalised to send it to the net to put the Glensmen eight points ahead. Armagh’s response was immediate however and Eoin McGuinness got his stick to a high ball in from Kieran McKernan to flick it to the net. Scores were traded with Conor Corvan getting his first point of the game and a super-timed tackle from Fiachra Bradley prevented an Antrim goal. Ryan Gaffney converted a further two frees to cut the margin to just three with just thirteen minutes to go and the momentum with Armagh, but the Orchard side were dealt a major blow when James King picked up a second yellow card. From then on in, it was all one way traffic for Antrim who added a further 2-5 to their tally to run out 6-21 to 4-14 winners.
While Antrim claimed their 56th Ulster title, Armagh’s search for the elusive first Ulster Senior Hurling crown continues, but Armagh can and should take great heart from Sunday’s game as they look forward to Division 2A next year. Armagh competed well against the Glensmen up until the sending off and can hold their heads high after a great performance and a great year for Armagh hurling.